In South Africa, you do not have to go far to see inequality and experience it.
Bestselling author and economist Noreena Hertz once said: "We live increasingly in a world of haves and have-nots, of gated communities next to ghettos, of extreme poverty and unbelievable riches. Some enjoy rights that are completely denied to others. Relative inequalities are exploding, and the world's poorest, despite all the advances of globalisation, may even be getting poorer." This year marks the eve of South Africa's 30 years of democracy. It is indeed a milestone, one that begs reflection on how far we have come in realising the hopes that the dawn of this democracy promised to the majority of black people. The first elections held with universal suffrage in April 1994 did not only entrench the human dignity of the majority of black people in the country, but also promised an even playing field when it comes to the equal protection and benefit of rights, access to resources and opportunities. Things were supposed to change for the better for the majority of people.
The Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution, which enshrines civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights, codified these promises, etching them in the supreme law of the land, thus turning promises into rights that the state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil. THE GREAT DIVIDE For the most part, South Africa has done a lot in policy and action towards making rights real for the majority of South Africans. From civil and political rights to economic, social and cultural rights, as well as environmental rights, strides have been made.
The Constitutional Court has produced some of the best landmark decisions challenging the constitutionality of certain inequality provisions of laws and practices, which are inconsistent with the provisions in the Bill of Rights. New laws have been promulgated, and others amended to address the unequal realities and historical disadvantage that black people and women, Annah Moyo In South Africa, you do not have to go far to see inequality and experience it. in particular, have experienced as a result of South Africa's brutal past. From a legislative, programmes and action plans perspective, much has been done, and continues to be done, to transform the realities and experiences of black people. However, 29 years later, law and reality remain poles apart, at least for an ordinary person on the street, and the divide keeps widening between what exists and requires implementation on the letter of the law and what has actually been done on the ground when it comes to bridging the inequality gap. In South Africa, you do not have to go far to see inequality and experience it.
Whether a tourist or resident, all it takes is a drive through the city to see opulence on one side of the road and poverty on the other, starkly coexisting, displaying the two realities. Sandton and Alexandra are a road apart, Fourways and Diepsloot are alongside each other. The 2022 State of South African Cities Network report highlights that one in five people in the country's biggest cities – including Johannesburg and Cape Town – live in informal housing. This is a staggering figure and an indictment of government's responsibility to provide housing as a right to its citizens.
INEQUALITY, SERVICE DELIVERY AND VIOLENCE Service delivery is one of the true markers of inequality in South Africa. For the haves, service delivery is prompt, well-equipped and available. For the have-nots, service delivery is not only inadequate, but also slow and, most times, unavailable. At the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, we study violence, particularly, its root causes, key drivers, fuelers and triggers. One root cause of violence that keeps coming up in our numerous research reports is inequality that is structural and systemic in the South African context. When you tell people that the government has no budget or resources to deliver services such as sanitation, sewerage, proper housing, infrastructure, water and electricity when they have been waiting patiently for 29 years for this change to come, frustrations are bound to surface. The mass frustrations get compounded when all it takes is someone who has waited for so long for this promised change to look across to the other side of the road to see for themselves that "it is not that these services are unavailable, they are just not available, for me or people like me".
The psychology of violence brought about by inequality is not that hard to understand. From a rights perspective, everyone has a right to housing, sanitation, infrastructure, sewerage, food, social security, healthcare, and many other socioeconomic rights whose realisation dignifies one's existence in society. However, these rights are only the preserve of a few – the elite and the privileged. The rights and the services are available and can be seen on the other side of the divide, just not where they are needed the most. Violent service delivery protests within this psychology and reasoning are therefore not mere criminality, but an outlet of frustration, anger and impatience of what was promised yet is still out of reach by virtue of location, class and privilege. A recent article in the Mail & Guardian on service delivery protests reveals that in 2022 alone, at least 193 service delivery protests occurred in the country – this equates to one service delivery protest every 1.9 days.
Service delivery is one of the true makers of inequality in South Africa.
If rights are to be realised for everyone in South Africa, communities and the lives of ordinary people on the street should be the site of this reality. Dismantling structural inequality will require us to return to the right approach for addressing it. Citizens and community members are not asking for handouts, they are not asking for benevolence; these are their rights and we, as government, human rights organisations and the private sector, are accountable. We are lagging in actualising their rights, and they are rightly impatient and frustrated. When they protest, they are exercising their rights, and we have a duty to meet with them and give them answers.
This article was originally published by Sunday Times: Human Rights Day 2023 by SundayTimesZA – Issuu